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Useful Reading: Reframing Difference (Ed. Dennis Mumby)

by on September 9, 2011

This book, edited by Dennis Mumby, explores the concept of ‘difference’ as a ‘fundamental and defining feature of organizational life’. For a book which on the face of it isn’t specifically about age – it doesn’t feature ‘age’ in the index at all – this is a still useful volume! It offers multiple ways of reframing difference (and therefore age, as a dimension of difference).
The book is split into 3 sections. The first is concerned with theorizing difference; the second section considers how to teach ‘difference’ to students of organizational communication. The final part looks at the discourses and issues arising from workplace initiatives designed to address difference. Most of the contributions draw on a critical and / or discursive approach.
In the context of age there are a number of potentially applicable ideas:
• Difference is generally conceptualized in work settings:
– as deficiency (e.g. where a particular age group are portrayed as a ‘deviation from a norm’, or are devalued, or seen as an unsuitable fit for particular jobs); or
– as added value (e.g. where advantage is attributed to a particular age group or where diversity is promoted as organizational advantage).
• There are limitations to theorizing the various dimensions of difference such as age (but also gender, ethnicity etc) in isolation as this piecemeal approach doesn’t reflect how these dimensions are experienced as parts of our identities.
• The need to move away from a static binary frame (e.g. young v old) which limits how we think about dimensions such as age, in light of the evidence of within-group variation (e.g. there may be greater differences within a group of older workers than between a group of older workers and a group of younger ones).
The central premise of the book is that we can usefully think of difference not as a property of individuals or groups but as an ‘organizing principle’ in respect of ‘the meaning, structure, practice and economy of work’.

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